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CHINA: USCIRF Condemns Arrest of Chinese Buddhist Leader Wu Zeheng and Detention and Mistreatment of Religious Leaders

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 30, 2014 | USCIRF

WASHINGTON, D.C. -  The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemns the recent formal arrest of Wu Zeheng, also known as Buddhist Zen Master Shi Xingwu, and more than a dozen of his followers.  They were charged under the highly problematic Article 300 of the Criminal Law of China that makes it a crime for anyone to form or use “superstitious sects or secret societies or weird religious organizations…to undermine the implementation of the laws and administrative rules and regulations of the State.”   If convicted, each could serve from seven years to life in prison. In practical terms, a formal arrest in China almost invariably leads to a conviction.

Wu is a Chinese Buddhist leader with millions of followers in China, Taiwan, and around the world. He was taken into custody in July, after more than 100 armed Chinese policemen staged a coordinated raid on several businesses and living compounds which his group, Huazang Dharma, operated.  An estimated 50 people, including children, were detained in the raid. 

“The arrest of Wu Zeheng escalates the Chinese government’s campaign against organized religions,” said Katrina Lantos Swett, USCIRF Chair.  “We urge the government to reverse course, release Wu Zeheng, and begin living up to its legal obligation to ensure that its citizens are guaranteed their fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief as provided by both Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution and international law.”

Wu’s indictment is part of the Chinese government’s broader nationwide crackdown on organized religion, which has accelerated with the expansion of religious observance in China. The government views vibrant faith communities as threatening its authority and ability to control its citizens.  Even adherents of China’s five officially sanctioned religions — Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism — along with religions that the government has not sanctioned, have been targeted.   The government has persecuted, intimidated, and jailed religious leaders, especially those with significant followings like Wu, who also has been targeted for being an alleged “evil cult” leader.

The Chinese government long has vilified the Falun Gong and its practitioners, including Wang Zhiwen, who recently finished a 15-year prison sentence during which time he was tortured, followed by detention in a “brainwashing center.” Despite his release from prison, Wang now will be stripped of all political rights for four years. Other Falun Gong prisoners, Li Chang, Yu Changxin, and Ji Liewu, remain imprisoned.  China’s Christian leaders also have been targeted, with many Christian prisoners of conscience detained, including Ms. Yang Rongli and her husband, leaders of a 50,000 member house church in Shaanxi province; Alimujiang Yimiti, a Uighur Christian; and Zhang Shaojie, a pastor in Henan province.  

The Chinese government also actively represses the religious practices of Uighur Muslims, especially in the autonomous region of Xinjiang, and has imprisoned Uighur prisoners of conscience including Ilham Tohti who received a life sentence in September 2014 for “separatism.”  Religious freedom conditions in Tibetan areas remain acute, given the Chinese government’s efforts to control Tibetan’s religious practice and culture and its detention of senior monks and other leaders including Tenzin Delek and Lobsang Tsering.  

In its 2014 Annual Report, USCIRF stated that “The Chinese government continues to perpetrate particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” and again recommended that China be designated as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC).  USCIRF has recommended CPC status for China since the Commission first made recommendations in 2000.  The State Department has designated China as a CPC since 1999.   For more information on religious freedom conditions in China see the 2014 Annual Report.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at media@uscirf.gov or 202-786-0613.

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